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FOX19 Investigates: Smoke detectors near house where fatal fire occurred

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UC students outside their former rental home. UC students outside their former rental home.
UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, OH (FOX19) -

As firefighters worked feverishly New Year's morning to rescue two University of Cincinnati students trapped by smoke inside a three-story house on Digby Avenue, Corey Durthaler was in another house across the street watching.

"My girlfriend was here for New Year's and I just looked at her and we were just like…that could've been us," Durthaler told FOX19.

Durthaler, his father, and former roommate John Kadiya all told us the home the boys rented after seeing it listed on Craigslist didn't have the required number of smoke detectors. In fact, they say there were no smoke alarms outside the sleeping areas, which Cincinnati ordinances have required for years, according to a fire department spokeswoman.

FOX19 followed the paper trail trying to understand how a landlord could get away with this without city officials knowing. What we discovered is that Harold J. Fodor of Cincinnati bought the home at 361 Probasco Street last July for $104,500. Although Hamilton County records obtained by FOX19 show that Fodor indicated after buying the property that he planned to rent it out, he never filed the required rental registration form. It clearly states on the conveyance fee receipt that bears Fodor's signature that the rental registration must be turned-in to the county auditor within 60 days.

Just to be sure, FOX19 asked an auditor's office staffer to research whether Fodor might have filed the rental registration form and later rescinded it. She said the record shows Fodor never filed the form at all. That's significant because had Fodor filed as a landlord with the county, Cincinnati Fire Department officials say it would've triggered an inspection of the home's smoke alarm system.

"Like this truck right here will go out and go to an apartment building and they'll keep track of it and they'll inspect every one," said Capt. Maurice Vassar, in front of one of his department's large fire trucks.

Vassar says firefighters inspect rental properties and businesses near their fire station. In 2012, that added-up to more than 87,000 inspections. In fact, Vassar says, a landlord in Cincinnati can expect a walkthrough with firefighters every six months.

Harold Fodor wouldn't answer FOX19's questions when we reached him by phone, except to say that the boys shouldn't be believed because they are still haggling over the remainder of the security deposit they didn't get back. When we tried to press him further, he hung-up.

While FOX19 was shooting this story outside the house on Probasco, a man who identified himself as Fodor's father said no one is currently living in the house, which appeared empty. Durthaler and Kabiya moved out months ago.

Kabiya says he and his roommates benefited from Durthaler's father walking through the house in the beginning and urging them to get the smoke alarm issue addressed.

"Because I mean, although we're grown --- we're adults --- we needed some parental guidance a little bit," Kabiya told us.

However, Fodor never installed smoke detectors, even after Durthaler's father called him, the men say. After the New Year's fire that killed 21-year-old Chad Kohls and 20-year-old Ellen Garner, they now realize just how dangerous that was.

Capt. Vassar says if you'd like to make sure your household is taking the proper precautions to prevent a fire, you can take a fire safety survey on the Cincinnati Fire Department's Facebook page.

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